He was busy in the yard, busy in the house. Back and forth, forth and back. In the garage, out of the garage. In the house, out of the house.
Ah, the bliss of household chores on a day off.
Problem was, the next time Dan Christian went to ride his bike, it was long gone, snagged by yet another opportunistic burglar in the few minutes Christian was in the backyard.
Reducing the risk of burglary seems simple enough: Close the garage door, lock the windows, get a dog or stronger locks. Lock the car, trim the hedges, improve outdoor lighting, have someone pick up the mail while you are away.
Easy, sure. But too often easier to forget. Just ask burglary victim Christian. He forgot. And he is a property crimes detective in the Oxnard Police Department.
"You leave the garage door open," he said, "you go in the backyard, and it only takes a matter of seconds for somebody to pick your bicycle up."
To be sure, Christian is not alone. Nonviolent property crimes--burglary, theft, auto theft and arson--by far account for the largest percentage of crime police departments confront.
A spot check of the April police log in Ventura showed a handful of car and home burglaries that amounted to huge losses in jewelry, tools, bicycles, sports equipment, cellular telephones and clothing. One burglar even stole the car ashtray.
In 1996, countywide statistics show, more than 87% of the crimes committed were property crimes.
And even as law enforcement agencies across the county and nation report significant declines in property crime, officials say homeowners shouldn't be fooled into letting down their guard.
The financial losses still translate into millions of dollars each year across Ventura County, authorities say.
"Don't leave your toys unattended," said Ventura Police Sgt. George Morris, who heads the department's property crimes division. "I think they taught us that in kindergarten."
So who are these crooks?
Police say many are drug addicts who can turn VCRs, bicycles, tools and jewelry into quick cash or trade the merchandise directly for more drugs.
These days, popular cellular telephones can bring a thief a quick $50 or can easily be traded for drugs.
Police warn people to engrave their belongings with their driver's license number and keep records of serial numbers.
Christian said police receive records of all items sold to pawnshops. But if a serial number does not correspond to one included in a burglary report, police are unable to know the item is stolen.
"What we find is that, with stereos, televisions and stuff, most people don't keep their serial numbers," Christian said.
But it's not always drug addicts who burglarize cars and homes. The average home burglar in the United States is a 14- to 17-year-old who strikes between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., said Laura Robinson, Ventura police crime prevention officer.
Often, the kids aren't out looking to steal things. They simply can't resist the temptation to steal something left ripe for the plucking in a frontyard or an open garage, police said.
For four years, those open garage doors mocked Ventura County Sheriff's Deputy Greg Tougas as he patrolled the streets of Thousand Oaks at night.
He could surmise by the cars that the residents were home. They just forgot to push the button on the automatic garage door.
So call Tougas the king of crime prevention, or maybe just a tad on the overzealous side. In the dead of night, he would sneak into the garages, push the button and run like the dickens.
Mission accomplished. Invitation to would-be thieves rescinded.
Today the power of Tougas' index finger has been replaced by the power of persuasion. He is one of two crime prevention officers in the city, going from meeting to meeting to preach home safety.
It must be working. The most recent crime statistics in Thousand Oaks show home burglaries at 1971 levels, a time when the city's population was a third smaller.
Last year, there were 239 residential burglaries, just one more than there were 25 years before. Home burglaries peaked in 1978 with 751 incidents, followed by 721 in 1984.
"A couple of years ago, we had professionals," said Tougas, who has worked in crime prevention for the past year and a half. "They were so good, they'd see a $2,000 bike and a $500 bike, and they'd leave the $500 bike." Across the county, law enforcement agencies have programs aimed at helping residents avoid becoming victims.
In most areas, residents can make appointments with law enforcement agencies for free home security checks, which look at lighting, landscaping, doors, windows and locks and include recommendations on how to beef up home security.
In Ventura, Operation I.D. lets residents borrow engravers or buy one for $10. Participants also get stickers for front windows and belongings that officers say can deter criminals.